FIVE years after he left St Patrick's Athletic to further his club and international ambitions in England, Keith Fahey is back at Inchicore.
Giddy Saints players and officials struggled to disguise their delight yesterday morning when the news broke that the 30-year-old had signed on for the 2014 campaign. "Was someone looking for a marquee signing?" tweeted chief scout Dave Campbell, as pictures circulated of Fahey back on his old stomping ground.
His capture is a serious coup for the Airtricity League champions. Fahey has struggled with his fitness since he suffered the agony of pulling out of Euro 2012 with a groin problem but, with 16 Irish caps and recent Premier League pedigree, he will be a serious force once he returns to full fitness.
A litany of hip and groin problems marred Fahey's final season at Birmingham and he also spent time back in Ireland due to personal reasons before being released last summer.
With surgery on his hip preventing the midfielder from finding a new club before the end of the August transfer window, he joined Sheffield United on trial but a toe injury curtailed his chances of landing a contract at Bramall Lane. That left Fahey in limbo, although he had more lucrative offers on the table before agreeing to link up with the Saints again.
The homebird has kept strong ties with the club since leaving for Birmingham in 2008, frequently attending games on trips home and even wading into the Richmond Park crowd to take control of a set of drums during one league fixture in 2012.
"I've come back here because of the great loyalty I've always received," said Fahey (below), who described himself as ecstatic at the news. "I was offered various deals from other clubs and ones which were financially a lot better.
"Both the fans and the club have always been great to me, and the stability of the club behind the scenes really made me want to come back and play my football in Inchicore again."
St Patrick's Athletic supremo Liam Buckley has denied that Fahey has a clause which would allow him to leave in the summer if an attractive offer came in from an overseas suitor, and says that the opportunity to play Champions League football in July was central to the player's decision.
"It was a pivotal part of his decision making," said Buckley, "He's signed for the season. For him, Europe is a big one. He gets on well with the board and the fans but then you throw in the Champions League profile as well. I'm sure it would have been harder to get him if we didn't have that. It's a big chance for him to showcase his talent, as it is for the rest of the group."
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill has said that he will be watching League of Ireland games next season, and his assistant Roy Keane intends to do the same.
Buckley does not believe that his club status should detract from Fahey's international prospects.
"Just because he's playing in Ireland doesn't mean he can't play for Ireland. He'll be the same player, if not better, when he recovers from his injury. I'm sure it's an ambition of his to get back into that picture."
The league champions have assembled an extremely strong squad for their title defence, with Buckley admitting that the addition of Fahey was a bonus with the timing of the season strengthening their hand.
"Until recently, I didn't realise that we could potentially sign him," he explained. "He hurt his toe at Sheffield United which scuppered that deal. It's going to keep him out until the middle of January and then the English season is finished in April/May. By signing for us, he's got time on his side."
Fahey made 191 appearances for the Saints in two previous spells at the club, and then lined out 121 times for Birmingham, including a pair of Premier League campaigns.
All his Irish caps came under Giovanni Trapattoni, with his last appearance coming in the World Cup drubbing at the hands of Germany in the Aviva Stadium 14 months ago. Missing out on the Euros was particularly heartbreaking for the Dubliner given that his crucial winning goal away in Armenia ultimately proved to be very significant.
Buckley now has the enviable problem of trying to structure a talented midfield around his exciting recruit. "He's an excellent link player," he continued. "He can pass the ball really, really well. There are good players in our league and it's great to be able to bring in someone like Keith."